Its one of the most basic faut-pas of court reporting yet time and again reporters get rapped for forgetting or neglecting to check copy in sensitive cases. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 together with the Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1992 and the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 clearly stipulate that victims of sexual offences should not be named or otherwise identified in reports without their express written consent. This is also reflected in the PCC code.
The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith has today sanctioned the prosecution of the Sun's owners News International over an article that appeared last August. Although the paper rectified the mistake as soon as it became aware, it may still have to pay the price of its mistake in revealing the identity of the victim.
In the wake of allegations made against premiership football players regarding an incident at London's Grosvenor House Hotel in 2003, Lord Goldsmith raised concerns over the prominence given to that - and similar - cases before they had even come to court or been properly investigated. He reminded the media of their responsibilities and made it clear he would be gunning for infringers. While cases as the Grosvenor House allegations or the subsequent soccer rape allegations in Spain showed, its easy to warn the media not to misbehave but that doesn't help clarify the law in this area.
However this case is more clear cut and all the Sun can hope for is that its response to its mistake will mitigate the punishment meted out over this misdemeanour.
As the law stands, the media are prohibited from reporting on sexual offences in such a manner as may reveal the identity of the victim or enable someone to discover their identity. This anonymity protection lasts for the lifetime of the victim. Prior to the relevant section of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act and 2003 Act coming into force there used to be a slight and subtle distinction between when an offence was alleged and someone was actually arrested and charged. It used to be the case that from the time an offence was alleged no publication should reveal the identity of the victim and then from arrest and charge no report that could lead to the uncovering of the victim's identity was permitted. This has been tightened such that unless the media obtain permission from the victim or/and the court then nothing should be published that could lead to their identity being revealed.
While victims have this anonymity right, defendants are more exposed. Debate prior to the passing of the 2003 Sexual Offences Act looked at whether defendants should have some anonymity before charges were brought - however as the Act got pushed through Parliament it was left to the police and media to self-regulate the identification of defenadants/alleged defendants in such cases. Where the identity of the defendant is in doubt the media still need to be cautious in any report that could suggest culpability.